Gardens Fit for A King
The Grand Trianon and Napoleon
The Petite Trianon and Marie
Women of Versailles
Versailles from Paris
Versailles. Versailles: the grand chateau
(palace) of the Sun King Louis XIV of the 17th century
and of Marie Antoinette of the 18th. The place
where World War I was finally ended.
Our love affair
with France dates back to the time of the American Revolution. The American colonies
enjoyed the support of France against Great
Britain. Without France's support--well, who knows what
would have happened?
People from other European countries and Britain may think
less kindly about Versailles. France was usually their
military opponent. Under the armies of Louis XIV, and later
Napoleon, most of the time they lost.
Even the French, until recently, were ambivalent about the
palace of Versailles. The Chateau represented absolutism and
monarchy, inherited privilege and unassailable economic
wealth-- the "old order." The old order's
understanding of life did not square with the "liberty,
equality, fraternity" ideals of other French "people."
Eventually heads had to roll.
Both sides had one shared obsession. Versailles represented "la Gloire,"
the "glorious people, ideas, and things" of France. The
"things" of la Gloire included territory
and power. France was not a peace-loving state.
Versailles as a group of buildings reflects its time(s) and
place(s). It has many stories to tell.
The Gates of Versailles.
In the 1920′s,
the American millionaire John D. Rockefeller Jr. donated $20 million to renovate Versailles.
The Beginnings of
Versailles: from Windmill to Country House
Versailles is most associated with
Louis XIV, the Sun King, but Versailles did not begin with
him. To his father goes this honor. In the early 1600′s Louis XIV's father acquired a little hamlet 12 miles from Paris. It
was called Versailles. The name
comes from the Latin word vertere, "to turn the
Two hundred peasant families lived in this prosperous
little village. The village's windmill
stood where the Chateau of Versailles now rules the
Why did King Louis XIII buy the village? He liked to
hunt deer with his aristocratic chums, and this area
produced them in prodigious quantity.
In 1623, he built a country house and hunting preserve on
the site of the village.
It was his private retreat: he included neither his wife,
mother, or brother in his house's plans or activities.
Louis XIII's Versailles.
moat and defenses surrounding the lodge.
From an engraving of Gomboust of 1652,
"Une Vignette extraite des Maisons royalles et remarquables
aux environs de Paris." Current location: the Bibliotheque Nationale,
Paris. Photo: Antiquity Journal, March 2008.
Louis XIV took no interest in
his father’s country estate until he became 25. Then
he discovered that the
hunting lodge allowed him a private
space for his extra-marital trysts. It was miles away
from the prying eyes of the royal Court. At Versailles, he
could make merry.
nest to power statement
Louis succeeded his father to the throne when he was but 4
years old. He was a bit of a "miracle child," as his mother
and father had been childless for the previous 20 years. His mother, Anne, ruled France for
the next 15 years as Regent.
The Sun King took full control of his crown in 1661. Over the next
two decades he pulled off military victories against Europe's
imagined himself as the most important monarch in Europe, not
one-among-equals. He was the Sun King.
King needed a built environment--a chateau and park--
that symbolized the
magnitude of his military victories.
Louis slowly manufactured
Versailles into a power statement, a grand and glorious
royal stage. A stage on this scale had never before been seen in Europe.
How large was it? Versailles in
his day was 1/3 larger than today's
The Sun King was
63 at the time of this portrait.
From the workshop
of H. Rigaud.
The original hangs in the Louvre, with a copy in the Apollo
Salon at Versailles. This version: the Getty Center, Los Angeles.
The Sun King's first great obsession was not
with a new chateau but with the landscape--his parks and
gardens. Louis was a good judge of talent: he hired Andre Le Nôtre. He was a genius in French landscape
design, capable of building magical outdoor spaces.
Le Nôtre came from a family of landscape designers and other
connections who had long worked for royalty. He was a friend
of top scientists and brilliant churchmen. His
breadth of knowledge stretched from paintings to
hydraulic engineering. In conversation, he charmed all.
Everyone was struck by his genius. Everyone wanted to talk
with him. Not least the King.
Le Nôtre was not a member of the nobility. The position of royal
gardener or designer was an "office," a property right
that, with permission of the King, a person inherited or
purchased. The "office" of the royal gardener brought with
it membership in the royal court.
Le Nôtre had something
beyond his "office." Louis spotted in him a special
genius, giving him permission
to "always feel free to speak (your) mind." Very, very few
were granted this by the Sun King.
The Goal: From Le Nôtre's readings and conversations with other
geniuses like Descartes, he concluded a landscape
fit for a King must
have long, sweeping, unobstructed vistas. The (King's) eye
should be carefully led through a series of terraces,
gardens with fountains, and flanking forests to a 'vanishing
point' on the far horizon.
Within the park, French gardens were laid out in intricate
geometric patterns, with geometrically precise lanes of
white rock connecting the various pieces of the garden
A Le Nôtre garden was not complete without an astounding use
of water. Water everywhere: fountains and
fountain sculptures, lakes and basins. The fountain must shoot high jets of
water into the air, not gurgle gently like a
fountain of ancient Rome.
The Science of the French Garden
Le Nôtre's garden designs reflected the latest in
scientific thinking on geometry, optics, and perspective.
Descartes would have been proud.
In the 17th century, educated people became quite interested
in the questions of how we see and know. "How do we
see? What do we see from different places? How do we see a
distant point --with one eye or both eyes? How to construct
a vanishing point? "
The engineering and infrastructure of the Versailles gardens were as important a statement of royal
power as its eye-pleasing trees and fountains. Gigantic
waterwheels lifted water from the river. Aqueduct
towered over the landscape to transport the water. Raised reservoirs provided water pressure. Pipes
were made of the new material
cast iron; cast iron ensured the water pressure did not
rupture the pipes.
All was publicly displayed and based on
the latest science. Le Nôtre knew to never miss a chance to
the King's prowess.
The Art of the
French landscapes advertised a specific sensibility.
What artistic statement was Le Notre trying to make?
French gardens were
to be populated by trees and by water.
There were to be few blossoming flowers and little color.
walkways, terraces, outdoor "rooms" called bosquets, large hedges, and
dense woods defined the new aesthetic.
If trees were the body and soul of his garden, what kinds of
trees were best? Le Nôtre needed trees that could be
severely pruned, clipped, bent, and otherwise bludgeoned into shape
to produce that marriage of art and science most pleasing to the King.
Although a botanist, Le Nôtre was
faced with using only the trees already growing in
France--hornbeam and elm, with a bit of lime, oak, yew, and
spruce. New types were imported from the
Mediterranean. They did not thrive. The orange and
pomegranates which delighted visitors at the Grand Trianon
could not be planted in the ground to become groves. They
withered and died in the cold winter of the Little Ice Age
of northern Europe.
The King's officers turned to the New World.
New species from France's colonies across the Atlantic
were eagerly bought. Slow sea transport killed
That left the Balkans. This time there was success. The horse chestnut tree
from this area proved to be easy to transport and to train into linear
orderliness. The chestnut tree became the backbone plant
promenades (allees) of Versailles.
Water. Nature itself was to be rigidly controlled and improved upon.
Nature refused to cooperate. It refused to supply a
warm enough climate for the Mediterranean orange trees. It
refused to supply
Versailles with a vital ingredient--water.
Without water, the basins would be small. Sculptures within
the basins would be modest, perhaps dreary. The fountains
would burble gently rather than shoot majestically into the
Rather than live within the natural supply, Louis commanded more water to appear.
His engineers, equal to the ancient Romans and their
glorious aqueducts, diverted the River Eure, 52 miles away.
More laborers died in the effort than Louis cared to admit.
French engineers devised a gigantic feat of hydraulic
engineering: the "Marly
Machine." It supplied Versailles with water.
The Marly Machine was a state-of-the-art hydraulic pump
driven by 14 large waterwheels. It could pump substantial
amounts of water from the river
up the hill to an aqueduct and onward to a series of underground
In Louis XIV's
day, Versailles gardens and basins required much more water.
Andre Le Nôtre (1613-1700).
loyal, and possessing the high moral standards valued by the
by Carlo Maratta, 1679.
Versailles. Photo : courtesy
(detail) by Charles Le Brun, constructed 1668.
to Read a French
--Is there space for the King and his guests to walk about and
--Would they see formal terraces, each leading to a fountain
with a sky-reaching jet of water?
--Beyond the fountain, is there a vista? Preferably one
that seems to stretch endlessly until it reaches the
vanishing point on the horizon.
--Are the trees are trimmed at even height, with each side the same?
Are they flanked by denser forest about 20 yards in?
--What colors are in the gardens? The trees should frame formal gardens with few blossoms
--Are there gravel paths laid in strict geometrical form?
Do they pull the garden into a coherent whole?
"Louis XIV on Promenade at the Grand Trianon, 1713," by
Charles Chatelain, 1714, hanging at the Museum of
How to Get
"View of the
Machine at Marly,"
by P-D Martin, 1722, currently hanging at Versailles. Photo:
Louis XIV next turned his attention to his father's
old dwelling. Louis' fêtes showcased the park and gardens.
But he could not control the high nobility with only a
park, no matter how grand.
Louis zeroed in on constructing a
would provide three things: a home for himself, a place of government, and on-site
lodging for the "Court."
Unlike the palaces of his ancestors, Versailles was not to
be a fortress. It must be moat-free. Although Louis
had the most personal bodyguards of any monarch in Europe, Versailles
the Chateau must give the impression he was secured by his "grandeur," his
magnificence as the Sun King.
The architect Louis Le Vau was chosen
to transform the modest hunting lodge. It was to become a
Le Vau was himself a
rich and powerful man. He was a successful real estate
developer and entrepreneur as well as architect. In Paris
today, you can see his work on the
Louvre, the Tuileries Palace, and the College Mazarin, also
known as the College des Quatre Nations.
built by Le Vau and his successors was much
larger then than today. In its multiple wings were hidden courts,
private rooms, and rooms sequestered deep within its walls.
300 lodging units, designed to house thousands of people,
were scattered throughout. To support all the occupants, it
had huge kitchens, extensive stables, and chapels.
Lodging rooms might be grand and large
but might be awfully tiny.
Sanitary facilities, water, heat, and especially private
kitchens could be hard to come by. No wonder
the wealthier aristocrats pined for their more comfortable villas in Paris.
The Versailles project began in earnest around 1670.
Twenty years later, it was large enough for Louis'
purposes. In 1682, the Sun King
officially abandoned the royal palace in Paris as the seat
of the Crown. He moved both the royal family and the court to Versailles.
Versailles became the one and only seat of power. If
you wanted royal favor, to hold high royal office, or were
simply commanded by the King, you too trundled off to
As for Le Vau, one of his projects ended up scandalously
over budget. Officials charged him with embezzling crown funds
meant for the project.
Louis XIV felt
secure; his palace needed no moat or defenses. Versailles, by
Pierre-Denis Martin. Current
Versailles Chateau Museum
Versailles: the Royal Chapel
under the Gaze of Louis XIV
and the Hall of Mirrors: War and Peace:
For his first
twenty-five years, Louis XIV was King of the Hill in
France and in Europe. France could mobilize an army of over
250,000 soldiers. Other European powers of the day gasped at
France's navy ruled the Mediterranean. Louis took
on all of Europe--England, Spain, Austria, the Netherlands, and the German
states, by land and by sea.
Throughout Versailles, look up, look straight ahead, look
around into the nooks and crannies in the magnificent
rooms. Everywhere, images of war and of Louis XIV as
victorious military leader assault the senses. French military
"glory" was displayed even in the design on the dinnerware.
The Hall of Mirrors,
stretching across almost the entire facade of
Versailles, was the most intimidating. The route for a
foreign dignitary to see the King was laid out precisely, to
overawe the visitor even before the King became visible.
The visitor first passed through a series of Salons (rooms) named
after classical heroes: Hercules, Mars, Apollo. Room
after room is decorated with sumptuous fabrics, regal
marble, glittering glass chandeliers, and gold gilt.
The last Salon on the route was the Salon of War.
center is the huge marble medallion on the wall of Louis.
The Sun King is trampling the enemies of France.
From the Salon of War, the visitor entered the Hall of
Mirrors. Visitors were (and still are) stunned with sensory overload:
mirrors, gold, and chandeliers. One foreign ambassador has
been recorded as soiling his breeches before reaching the
end of the Hall and into the presence of the Sun King.
Visitors staggered out on the other side into the Salon of
The message of the route was clear: without Louis as victor,
there could be no peace. France was destined to be the protector of peace for all of Europe.
the Hall of Mirrors
The Hall of Mirrors.
Versailles: Salon of Mars
Salon of War.
Medallion of Louis
XIV as Military Victor: Louis
tramples his enemies. Versailles. Stucco. Antoine Coysevox.
Who Was "The
1682 Louis moved both the royal family and the court
permanently to Versailles. "The Court" meant the vast royal
entourage. It started with the 250 or so people
classified as "people of quality."
The grand nobles preferred to stay in their
Parisian town houses. There they had better quarters and more
Who was invited to visit
Not just the high aristocracy of France. Lesser nobles from
the provinces and the rich burghers of Paris were also
welcomed to the fêtes. The provincials came willingly and
People of quality included only the princes of the blood,
the rulers of large provinces within France (the peers and
dukes), those very wealthy noblemen of ancient lineage (with
rank of marquis), important clergy, and military officers of
high rank in the army and the navy, and their families.
In public and court ceremonies Louis treated the princes,
peers, and dukes as his "cousins. " He liked to be
surrounded by those from his own social sphere. They in turn
acted as if they were set apart from the rest of humanity.
Social respect they held onto, but Louis was careful to keep
them away from real power.
The Court also meant the thousands of domestic employees
needed to provide food, shelter, and services for all of the
Why did Louis provide for these thousands?
Louis was trying
to secure his throne. The high nobility had led
the many rebellions, civil wars, and coups of the era.
If they were in the Sun King's sightlines and their welfare
control, his reign and those of his descendants would be secure.
The nobility for their part some of the King's
ever-expanding patronage, pensions, offices, and court
spotlight. The high nobility held most of the "offices" of
the household, such as the Grand Master of the Wardrobe, of
the Pantry, of Ceremonies, of the Hunt, of the Stable,
and of the Kitchen.
"Offices" came with a yearly salary, and all of them were
for sale, right down to the cook's assistant. Positions
could be hereditary, if the King agreed. If the King wanted
a new face, the ambitious noble on the make bought the
office from his predecessor. The price was set by the King.
Presumably the King's coffers got a cut from the sale.
From Grand Chateau to
Once started, construction
at Versailles seemingly could not be stopped. Louis XIV's
brilliant Finance Minister, Jean-Baptiste Colbert, became
alarmed at the endless amount of spending. Louis' wars
against his European foes were already about to bankrupt
The King loved luxury. The
Court loved luxury. Foreign dignitaries were overwhelmed by
the luxury at Versailles, as they were meant to be.
To the entertainments,
clothes, jewels, the hunt expenses, add the expense of
construction. Versailles became a white elephant
because it was the product of a bad architectural decision:
the Sun King and his architect Le Vau did not demolish the
old country lodge first. Instead, they tried to build around
styles of the old and the new were too different. It
always seemed to need an expensive design fix. Building and
running Versailles became a
monstrosity. Colbert must have died weeping.
(1619-1683) , Louis XIV's Finance Minister
Colbert combined the roles of Finance Minister and
Louis XIV died in 1715.
His great-great-great grandson, Louis XVI, was the last
Bourbon monarch to live at Versailles. Less than 100 years
after the Sun King, the Bourbon monarchy fell during the
French Revolution. A Paris mob carted Louis XVI, his wife
Marie Antoinette, and their children off to Paris in 1789. A
few years later the King and Queen went to the guillotine.
The new French Republic paused. It was uncertain what to do
in an age of democracy with Versailles,
symbol of "absolute monarchy." The need for money to
fight wars decided the matter: The Republic
sold much of the land and the furnishings and mothballed
A few years later, Napoleon became Emperor and made his own
kind of "absolute monarchy," He wanted nothing to do with
the Bourbon variety. He kept rooms in the Grand Trianon and
stayed away from the Versailles Chateau.
In 1871 the Germans
defeated the French in the Franco-Prussian War, and
forced the French to sign the treaty of surrender at
Versailles. The King of Prussia was proclaimed "Kaiser"
(Emperor) in the Hall of Mirrors.
The French didn't forget this humiliation. At the end of
World War I, the Germans and allies were forced to sign
their own humiliating treaty, called The Treaty of
Versailles, in the same Hall of Mirrors.
Today, the French government, a Republic, is resurrecting
Versailles to the days of Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI.
To fund the effort, Versailles has become a
"destination" for high-end events. The fashion designer Karl
Lagerfeld has held fashion photo shoots there. In 2004
Versailles was rented to the Indian steel tycoon, Lakshmi Mittal, for a
sumptuous private wedding feast.
Versailles, in whatever
phase of construction it was, succeeded as a place of political and court business.
It was a
stage where the King could see and be seen.
it became less of a
home for Louis. Everyone minded everyone else's business.
Royalty was scrutinized constantly. Louis XIV most of the
time did not distinguish between his public life and his
private one. He was king "wherever he was and at all times."
His bedchamber was where he slept, ate, and held court.
Sometimes he wanted a bit less of it all. Where could the
Sun King go?
A more intimate chateau was needed.
In 1668 the Sun King purchased the
nearby hamlet of Trianon. Here, he commissioned Le Vau to build
a "porcelain" compound of five pavilions for him and his mistress the
Marquise de Montespan (Athénaïs). Porcelain referred to the facade and
roof, which looked as if they were built of blue porcelain.
Twenty years later, the material had deteriorated and Louis'
tastes had moved on, in both mistresses and architecture.
The new mistress was the Madame de Maintenon, the new
house was designed in the Italian style, and the new architect was Jules Mansart.
At the Grand Trianon, the Sun King could take his leisure,
having lunch on the outdoor patio, surrounded by flowers and
orange trees. Many were in container pots so the gardeners
could move them around daily to please the King's eye, and
transport them indoors for the winter.
The Grand Trianon of today has Louis XIV's exterior.
It's a one-story, elegant pink marble building. The interior furnishings are from
a much later period, Napoleon's, 100 + years later.
Almost nothing in the interior remains from the Grand
Trianon of Louis XIV.
Napoleon installed various female members of his household
and had their rooms redecorated in the early 19th c.
The Grand Trianon:
The Empress' Bedroom, or Red Room.
The Grand Trianon:
Salon of Mirrors.
Furnished in the
Empire style, from Napoleon's reign.
The original Grand
Trianon, called the Porcelain Trianon.
The Grand Trianon, Versailles.
Trianon. The famous gardens
are on the other side of the building.
The Grand Trianon:
The Peristyle .
made of light-colored, Italian
marble connects two pavilions.
The Grand Trianon:
Napoleon as Emperor sometimes used the Grand Trianon. More
often he was in Paris, at the Fontainebleau Chateau, or off
Grand Trianon: The
Emperor's Room or Malachite Room.
Napoleon used one
room as a display case for one of his most costly objects,
a piece of rare Siberian malachite. The Russian Czar, Alexander I, gave
the precious stone object to Napoleon. The two
had just concluded a treaty at Tilsit. The Treaty of Tilsit changed the
course of the Napoleonic Wars, at least for a time.
Louis XIV. Marie-Antoinette (1755-1793) was the best-known person to
live at Versailles. Her husband was Louis XVI, the
great-great-great-grandson of the Sun King.
"The Court" grew to 15,000 or so by their reign, much larger than in the
days of Louis XIV. It was housed
in buildings around the grounds and in the town of Versailles.
By 1775 ideas of privacy for the
individual were changing. Marie-Antoinette thought these ideas could be applied to her, the Queen of France.
Seeking even more privacy, Marie-Antoinette persuaded
her husband, King Louis XVI, to give her the secluded house
in the royal gardens known as the Petit Trianon.
Petit Trianon was built about 100 years after Versailles
Chateau. Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette
began to hold court at Versailles Chateau less and less
often; in mid-week, Versailles was deserted.
Other members of Louis' close family built similar rural
idylls close to the palace. Why was her place regarded as
unusual, even sinister?
As Queen she ordered a system
of mirrors that could rise by pulleys from the beneath the floor of her new boudoir to
cover the windows when needed. A mechanic named Mercklein received about
13,000 livres for this ingenious system.
She entertained "informally," at least by court standards.
She had a Medusa medallion at the head of the grand staircase.
built a "hamlet" of 11 cottages near the main building. The
hamlet had a grotto with a secret lookout point.
What was going on? For females of royal blood,
adultery could be treasonous. Future offspring might
not be the King's. The very foundation of dynastic
succession would be threatened.
on Interior Door for privacy.
Petit Trianon: Medusa Medallion at the top of the Grand Staircase
Petit Trianon North Exterior.
Petit Trianon: Entertainment Room.
Green was the interior color of choice at the Petit Trianon.
Petit Trianon: Grand Salle, the
Large Dining Room
The Grand Staircase
Madame de Montespan
The Marquise de Montespan, Françoise-Athénaïs,
was Louis XIV's mistress
for over 30 years. Together they had seven children. The Sun King
legitimized six of them.
Montespan, called Athénaïs, even accompanied Louis XIV to war in 1667.
Of course, so did his wife the Queen, his other mistress at
the time who was the "official" mistress, his brother, and several other ladies of the
The Queen, the official mistress Louise de la Vallière, and the upstart Montespan
often rode in the same carriage. They shared living quarters
near each other in Versailles. It must have been a merry party.
There was one big problem for the Sun King. Madame de Montespan was
already married. Her husband was a man so bizarre he held a
"funeral" on his estates for his wife once it became widely known
she was the King's mistress. He was not going to keep quiet.
French society was scandalized: two married people
committing open, and seemingly endless, adultery. Athénaïs
came from a creakingly old and noble family. Her father was
a Duke, her uncle, an Archbishop, who was especially
outraged. The King could not be seen to be
acting as a tyrant--a wife stealer--toward a member of his high aristocracy
like the Marquis de Montespan.
The solution: the Montespans must get a
It took six years for the Sun King to get the
highest court in Paris to agree to a split between Montespan
husband and wife. The husband was promptly bought off.
Madame de Montespan became the top
Athénaïs was a great beauty. She was witty.
She was well-read. She supported France's leading literary figures. She gave
generously, from her
own funds, to hospitals and convents. She did
not allow her six
children to get in the way of her public life.
Her lodgings at Versailles were on the ground floor. The
lodgings were entered from an imposing vestibule. Marble
columns gave it soaring majesty. She loved flowers. Flowers
of classical deities abounded. She played the roles
of party-giver and socialite admirably.
In 1670, Louis XIV built the "Porcelain Trianon" for the two
of them. The Sun King and Montespan wanted to escape the deep
rigidity and incessant spotlight of court living. The Porcelain Trianon
was relaxing, enhanced by a riot of flowers in the gardens.
Eventually, Athénaïs too was overturned in favor
of a younger woman. After bearing all those children for
Louis XIV, she had put on quite a bit of weight. She became
unattractive to the King. So much for true love and loyalty.
In 1691, thirty-some years after
becoming the Sun King's mistress, Madame de Montespan was
shoved off toward the convent. She was not even invited to
her daughter's wedding to the Duc d'Orléans.
Happily for Montespan, she was dispatched in style. The King gave her a
"severance package" or pension of half a million francs.
She lived at the convent for ten years, dying at age 65 in
Versailles post-script: When Athénaïs left the
court, her lodgings at Versailles passed, not to a member of the Royal
Court governing group, but to the second son of Athénaïs
and the King. Upon this son's death, his widow "inherited" the
de Montespan (1640-1701).
by the circle of Pierre Mignard.
corridor at Versailles.
Even bedrooms were open. At the foot of the bed was a long corridor that connected all the rooms.
Everyone at Versailles lived their lives in public.
Porcelain Trianon, main pavilion. It
lasted about 20 years. The roof was painted to resemble
porcelain tiles; inside tiles in the Chinoiserie style were
everywhere. Nothing remains today.
Drawing: Architectural Watercolors. by Andrew Zega and Bernd
Madame de Maintenon (Françoise)
Maintenon became Louis' favored one in place
Françoise d'Aubigne was a pious woman who did
not participate in some of the more excessive behaviors at
Court. She loved
children and became the governess of the children of Athénaïs
and the King. The children loved her more than their own
mother, who paid them little attention.
The Court was baffled when Louis
Francoise. She was of somewhat inferior birth to most of the Court, with a
questionable marriage behind her. She was not especially
beautiful, plus she was older than the
middle-aged King! Was she now the governess of the King, as
she had been of his children?
Evidently Louis was ready for seriousness, piety and friendship as well as wit and
verve. He couldn't get along without Maintenon. It is thought
they married, in a private, religious ceremony blessed by the
Church. Since the marriage did not take place as a State marriage, Madame de Maintenon
never became Queen of France. The King and Françoise,
for example, could never dine together in public.
For Françoise, Louis demolished in 1687 the original Grand Trianon (the Porcelain Trianon) and rebuilt it in
pink Italian marble. This is the
Grand Trianon the visitor
The King and Maintenon walked through the
garden, full of exotic and heavily scented flowers. They
enjoyed musical events and dining al fresco.
They stayed together for 22 years, still enjoying intimate
times into their seventies.
Françoise came from a mixed Catholic-Protestant background,
and her piety was well-known. She kept a series of
notebooks. In them she jotted down an unorganized collection of
religious sayings and texts. A rag-bag they may have been,
but they evidently empowered her to write, and believe, "I
may not keep from the King anything of the things he needs
to know from me and that nobody else has the courage to tell
him." Bold words, indeed.
Francoise gave away most of her money to charities. She
particularly believed in education for (a few) girls.
She started a free school at nearby St.-Cyr for girls from
well-born but poor families. It was a type of
finishing-school training camp for marriage. Upon finishing,
the girls would then function as useful, virtuous wives to
well-off gentlemen. They were the backbone of French
died in 1715, four years earlier than she. After the King's
death, she retired to seclusion at St.-Cyr, where she died
at age 84 in 1719. Not popular at Court for her sense of
order and decorum, her arch-rival wrote: "I just learned
that old Maintenon croaked last night. If only it had
happened thirty years earlier."
Françoise, Madame de
By Pierre Mignard
graceful, she partied. Her husband, the King, piddled with small stuff like his
She gave mixed
signals about compliance with the ancient "etiquette of
decency", still in place, especially for the royal females.
The rules for royals required two ladies-in-waiting to
follow a Queen around at all times to protect her virtue.
Queen was never to eat with men, even the King's brothers,
in the King's absence.
Royal females were segregated from nonroyal men at meals,
even when the King was present.
A gentleman was never to put his hand on the back of a
woman's armchair. And so forth...
Despite the rules, recent work
by historians has led to renewed speculation Marie
Antoinette had a lover. She met with him at both Versailles
at the Petite Trianon.
Marie-Antoinette installed a secret door in her Queen's Bedchamber in
the Versailles Chateau. Behind it lay private rooms. For her
two bedroom chambers, she installed a set of complex,
unusual inside locks which she operated from her bed.
Unfortunately for her, Marie-Antoinette was caught in the expectations of
the public set by Louis XIV a century earlier.
The King and
Queen of France must be constantly observable, at least by the
aristocracy at court. The French equated a royal life lived
in public with a morally reputable life, despite any
evidence to the contrary.
Marie-Antoinette embraced more modern ideas of privacy.
In the end, her informality became a fatal liability.
Antoinette (1755-1793), 8th daughter of Empress Maria Theresa of Austria.
Painting by Gautier-Dagoty, 1775, shortly after Marie-Antoinette became Queen of France/span> (detail). Photo:
Joconde; location: Versailles Chateau Museum.
Chateau: Marie-Antoinette's Bedchamber.
"secret door" (left
corner) led to interior corridors, staircases, and very
Napoleon's Second Wife,
Marie Louise of
Marie Louise's father was the Habsburg Emperor Francis I of Austria and
her mother was his second wife. Marie Louise had an
impeccable royal ancestry. Her lineage was highly prized by
Napoleon, by then Emperor of France.
Marie Louise was also young and
could bear children. Napoleon's first wife and
great love, Josephine, could not. Marie-Louise was fluent in
English, French, Italian, Latin, and Spanish, in addition to
her native German.
She was married off to Emperor Napoleon
in 1810 when she was 18, and he 41. A year later she
fulfilled her role and gave birth to their son, Napoleon II.
Three years after that, Emperor Napoleon was defeated in
battle by a coalition of the other major European
Powers and sent into exile. Marie Louise never saw him
again, nor seemed to want to.
She couldn't very well continue as the Empress of France after
Napoleon's final defeat. On the other hand, she WAS a
Habsburg and former Empress.
The European Powers in 1814 made
Marie Louise a duchess of an independent duchy-state in
Italy, Parma. She and the residents of Parma seemed happy
with each other. br />
She remarried twice, had two more children and died in Parma at age 56.
Her son by Napoleon died unexpectedly in Vienna of
tuberculosis at age 21. He had no heirs.
At the Grand Trianon, Empress Marie Louise was assigned Louis
XIV's old bedroom.
She furnished it in this striking red.
Empress Marie Louise of Austria (1791-1847)
Painting by Robert Lefevre, 1812. Current location: Museum of Glauco Lombardi in Parma.
Grand Trianon, Versailles: The Empress' Bedchamber, or the
occupied the Salon des Glaces, or the Room of Mirrors, at
the Grand Trianon.
Her name was Letizia Ramolino Bonaparte. Napoleon was
devoted to his family. When he became Emperor, his mother
received the title of Madame Mère de l'Empereur in
1804. Napoleon supported her with an allowance of 25,000
francs per month.
Letizia had 13 children. Eight survived. Napoleon in his new
version of Europe made most of them monarchs .
Although she never learned French, she still got to live at
the Grand Trianon. She died in 1836, aged 85.
Mother, Letizia Ramolino (1750-1836).
Painting by Louis-Leopold Boilly, early 19th c.
Bowes Museum, Barnard Castle, U.K.
How to Get to
Versailles from Paris
IMPORTANT: Leave Paris early even if you already have
a Chateau entry ticket. Hordes of tour busses rumble
into the parking lot around 9:30 am. The security lines
at the Versailles Chateau clog up.
1. Find your nearest RER-C station or stop. The stations are
often shared with the Paris Metro.
2. Buy a return (round trip) ticket to Versailles Chateau on
the RER-C line. Best to buy in advance as ticket machines
may not work or the station agent window may not be open.
Your Metro ticket is NOT valid for this journey.
3. Find the RER-C platform headed in the direction
4. Take the train named “VICK.” The name is on the top part
of the engine face as the train enters the station. Do not
take any other train labeled “Versailles.” If in
doubt, look for other tourists and French school-children,
all of whom are going to Versailles.
5. The journey takes 45 minutes.
6. The name of the station where you will get off is
Versailles Rive-Gauche. You can't go wrong: the train
deadheads at this station and everyone gets off.
Follow the crowd to Versailles Chateau about ½ mile away.
A note: The RER train system covers the “Ile de France.”
What the heck does this mean? “Ile de France” means the
greater Paris area, similar to "the San Francisco Bay Area."
RER trains are part of the Ile de France greater
transportation system, running from the suburbs into and
You may contact me, Nancy Padgett, at